Grounded in the Past, Looking Forward: Reflections on Archaeological Practice in the New Millennium

Author(s): Ann Stahl

Year: 2016


The plenary theme asks us to reflect on the question “what pasts for Africa?” This is a very big question, with many possible responses. The ones that I sketch are shaped by my position as a graying, North American-based scholar, where archaeology is practiced as a subfield of anthropology and a discipline among the social sciences. This location has substantially shaped my approach to our field, in terms of the questions that intrigue me, the combination of ‘science’ and ‘art’ through which my evidential insights emerge, and my interest in boundary-crossing practice, on which more in a moment. My comments are also shaped by having concentrated my research in a very small area: the stool lands of the Banda Traditional Chieftaincy which encompass roughly 30 village-sized settlements in what Igor Kopytoff would have characterized as an internal frontier between well-known states (Asante to the south; Gonja to the north; Gyaman to the west). My engagement over three-plus decades with Banda’s peoples and their histories of global entanglements has been formative of my impressions, approaches and perspectives. As such it feels like hubris to specify ‘what pasts for Africa’, writ large, but I’ll offer some thoughts from my location that may be of use.

I begin with a few broad observations before sharing some advice directed primarily to the upcoming generation of scholars who will carry our discipline forward in the new millennium. First, the African archaeology into which young scholars are initiated today differs in important ways from that into which practitioners of my generation were introduced. As such, this is not your father’s or your mother’s African archaeology. Our field has been enriched by a growing concern with the ethics of our practice and the conditions that shape our knowledge production; by a growing emphasis on community engagement; and an increasing sophistication of historically attuned questions that have provided in recent years a much needed counterpoint to the reductionist social evolutionary formulae that dominated Anglophone scholarship and marginalized Africa’s pasts on a world stage in decades past.

Cite this Record

Grounded in the Past, Looking Forward: Reflections on Archaeological Practice in the New Millennium. Ann Stahl. Presented at Society of Africanist Archaeologists 23rd Biennial Meeting, Toulouse, France. 2016 ( tDAR id: 426001) ; doi:10.6067/XCV86D5W0W

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Spatial Coverage

min long: -3.721; min lat: 4.36 ; max long: 2.08; max lat: 12.096 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Ann Stahl

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